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Monday, August 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, Paul

An email came down from the power company's marbled halls that a new security firm was taking over the contract for the operations facility. It noted that nothing would change other than the uniforms worn by the guys who had been working here all along, that they had moved from one company to the other.

As an aside, I find it a little disheartening that our security is contracted out, for the same reason that I dislike our custodial work and other relatively low-paying jobs on contract. I know there are financial reasons for it, but the loss of entry-level jobs into the business makes it hard to grow local, loyal employees. These days most everyone comes in sideways from another career.

At my first power company gig, the operations center was named for a previous longtime CEO who was well-liked and who led the company through a difficult period into an era of lasting success and growth. Story goes that he used to stop by Dispatch pretty much every morning and chew the fat with the crusty dispatchers, hearing the unedited opinions of how things were.

Today you are hard pressed to get high company leaders into Dispatch even once a year, which is true for my current company. And forget getting them into a truck with a crew for a day.

But what was even better about this legendary CEO was his career path. He moved into upper management after stints as Chief Dispatcher and Superintendent of Operations. Before his dispatch career he was a meter reader, worked at one of the coal power plants, drove heavy equipment, worked in the warehouse. His first job at the utility? Custodian. For real. I saw the old company directory to prove it, a genuine success story, and a lifetime career with a company he knew intimately from top to bottom, a company he loved and who loved him back.

I know those days are over, so no use crying about it.

So (back on topic), I arrived at work and met Paul, one of those security guys, and asked him if he was going to look better in his new black duds that would replace these gawdawful green threads. Paul is in his late sixties and probably does not spend much time thinking about uniform fashion.

"I don't know, I'm not going to be wearing them."

(scratching record - full stop)

Say what?

Turns out Paul was informed about an hour before I saw him that he was in fact not going to be picked up by the new company. And why? He was told it was because he had a DUI back in the 90's on his record. A misdemeanor, for which he paid his debt to society, and a clean record ever since. Not good enough. He said they defined their disqualifying criteria as having been in jail.

Now what the hell is this? At my level of security, especially when I worked at the monster utility and had instant unfettered access to remote transmission and generation controls spanning several U.S. states, you'd think I would have to meet a higher standard. I could have single-handedly blacked out a huge chunk of the USA in about 30 seconds. And guess what?  I've been in jail, too.

Yes, when I was 18 and much dumber than I am now, I was stupid and got caught up with some friends in activities which are not germane to the blog. I was arrested, processed, spent several hours in a holding cell. I was never charged with anything, because I was on the fringe of the stupidity, but the arrest is still on my record and has come up at every power company and FD interview. Nonetheless I keep getting hired because I pass the checks and polygraphs (having not been charged with anything helps, of course).

So here we are. I am in middle management like a division chief at my current power company, with the same full access to everything. Yet Paul, who can't get to any of this stuff, apparently can't otherwise be trusted on the premises or in the fleet yards despite almost 20 years of watching the place for us without a blemish.

And you know what?  It was his birthday. He had arrived to find that the office ladies had brought him pie and ice cream. Had a little social thank you event and then went about his rounds. Two hours later he got the call that he was working his last shift.

And then I showed up and cluelessly asked him a silly-assed fashion question. As if his day wasn't just peaches already. Something doesn't add up here, and we are left to wonder if the new company didn't want to assume Paul's upcoming retirement costs or something equally cold. Sounds like the jail time thing was just an excuse.

Happy birthday, Paul.


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